Wineskins Archive

January 28, 2014

The Ashing (Mar-Apr 2007)

Filed under: — @ 7:53 pm and

We asked readers to send essays with the theme, “How Lent has changed me.” Here is another very moving essay by Debi Simmons. She lives in Northamptonshire, UK.

by Debi Simmons
March-April, 2007

Each year as I look forward to the season of Lent, I find myself drawn more and more towards the preparation . . .

Ash Wednesday is like the first day of a long journey for me. I anticipate it with excitement, but with some fear and trepidation, and want to make sure I have listened to God’s instructions for what my heart and mind need to reflect on.

Sometimes, the preparation is right on track, and God and I are ‘in sync’ if you will. But other seasons, God comes in and rearranges, or summarily dismisses, all the prep work, and I find He’s crafted a completely new wilderness adventure. So, you might say Ash Wednesday is the day I get to open up this new gift from Him. It sets up His presence in a new sacred space I know only He will lead me to.

What follows are some very personal thoughts about when I finally stopped rebelling against our vicar’s dirty thumbprint on my forehead. Although I now worship and serve within the Anglican tradition, I grew up in the Churches of Christ, and some of my annual ambivalence about ‘enduring’ Lent had to do with getting ‘Ashed’ and walking around in public with a sign on my forehead, as if I were showing off a phylactery like a Pharisee.

So last year, part of my Lenten prep was to dialogue with my vicar, a dear friend, and discover what the emblem, in context with Eucharist, was really all about. God led us both to a richer understanding.

Ashes. Not one of my favourite things. Dirty, smelly – they leave an awful black stain over everything. But the Lenten Ashing has become a seasonal gift, calling me to reflect upon the ashes in my life.

ASHES of . . .

Swirling from the glowing campfire, hymns linger with friends and family close by in a circle of light; Remnants of a cosy fireplace, a snowy night, a quilt, a good book.

I was aged twelve the first time I beheld such raw poverty. Today’s ashes remind me of beautiful Afghan children, huge eyes sad, hopeful, begging me for bahkshish – I, the enchanted American kid with a steady supply of Oreos from our American compound in Kandahar. I see faces caked in dirt, and residue of ash on hair, elbows, knees, and cracked bare feet. The children who I wish might be my new friends reach out, touching my white skin, blonde hair, smelling the clean fabric of clothes I get to wear. Ashes drift upon them as they sleep near smoky open fires during cold Kandahar nights.

Such a painful feeling, the first time poverty in 3-D stares back at you – filling all your senses to the core. Overwhelmed, tears sting my eyes, invade my thoughts. Where to start? My allowance? Only a chit book, it’s not adequate to feed, clothe, or heat their school.

Poverty is cruel to children on both sides of the line: those who have not, and those with much but too young to command power to give all they would.

Watching the ashes of someone I love dearly fly away brings a longing ache to hug them still. In faith, I believe the Lord’s opened arms will be on the other side of the clouds to capture their spirit, holding them close when I no longer can.

These ashes are most difficult to accept, emblematic of the wrongs I commit. Placed compassionately on my forehead, the affirmation received within this sanctuary of fellowship compels me to observe God’s inner workings inside my heart. As I step out into a world that offers no sanctuary and little compassion, I silently remove this black stain of ash.

Repentance allows that most ultimate of God’s gift – grace! What a freeing feeling I get when I know He pours it over me, again and again. I like what Father John Beddingfield, of St Mary the Virgin Episcopal Church, New York, writes: “While ashes may signify and remind, they also invite . . . They begin a season that moves us through silence and longing into a season of joy and resurrection.”New Wineskins

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